Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Cost of solar power (23)

It’s said, and I see no reason to doubt it, that data centres chew up a lot of power.  I understand that industry giants like Apple and Google address their carbon footprints with solar installations and energy-efficient design.  In Australia, NEXTDC is building a fleet of data centres and aspires to lead Australia’s information and communication sector in solar and energy efficiency.  To this end, they are installing rooftop PV systems, using tri-generation plant and incorporating special design features to provide cooling for banks of computers.

The NEXTDC data centre at Port Melbourne is due to be operational in Q2 2012.  The power requirement is 12 MW and overall area of the facility is 17.5 Ha.  According to this article, the overall system cost is AUD 1.2 million and the PV panels for the data centre will have output of 400 kW peak and 550 MWhr annually.  The solar electricity will replace fossil fuel generation that would have caused 670 t CO2 per year. 

(A brief note of explanation about CO2 emissions – most electricity used in Melbourne is generated from brown coal power stations in the Latrobe Valley, some 100-150 km to the east.  These power stations have shocking CO2 emissions.  On the numbers given above, the emissions intensity would be 670/550 = 1.218 t CO2 per MWhr.  I don’t dispute the numbers.)

I now evaluate the LCOE using my customary assumptions
          there is no inflation,
          taxation implications are neglected,
          projects are funded entirely by debt,
          all projects have the same interest rate (8%) and payback period (25 years), which means that the required rate of capital return is 9.4%,
          all projects have the same annual maintenance and operating costs (2% of the total project cost), and
          government subsidies are neglected.

For further commentary on my LCOE methodology, see posts on Real cost of coal-fired power, LEC – the accountant’s view, Cost of solar power (10) and (especially) Yet more on LEC.  Note that I am now using annual maintenance costs of 2% rather than 3% as in posts during 2011.

The results are:

Cost per peak Watt              AUD 3.00/Wp
LCOE                                     AUD 249/MWhr

The components of the LCOE are:

Capital           {0.094 × AUD 1.2 × 10^6}/{550 MWhr} = AUD 205/MWhr
O&M              {0.020 × AUD 1.2 × 10^6}/{550 MWhr} = AUD 44/MWhr

By way of comparison, LCOE figures (in appropriate currency per MWhr) for all projects I’ve investigated are given below.  The number in brackets is the reference to the blog post, all of which appear in my index of posts with the title “Cost of solar power ([number])”:

(2)        AUD 183 (Nyngan, Australia, PV)
(3)        EUR 503 (Olmedilla, Spain, PV, 2008)
(3)        EUR 188 (Andasol I, Spain, trough, 2009)
(4)        AUD 236 (Greenough, Australia, PV)
(5)        AUD 397 (Solar Oasis, Australia, dish, 2014?)
(6)        USD 163 (Lazio, Italy, PV)
(7)        AUD 271 (Kogan Creek, Australia, CLFR pre-heat, 2012?)
(8)        USD 228 (New Mexico, CdTe thin film PV, 2011)
(9)        EUR 200 (Ibersol, Spain, trough, 2011)
(10)      USD 231 (Ivanpah, California, tower, 2013?)
(11)      CAD 409 (Stardale, Canada, PV, 2012)
(12)      USD 290 (Blythe, California, trough, 2012?)
(13)      AUD 285 (Solar Dawn, Australia, CLFR, 2013?)
(14)      AUD 263 (Moree Solar Farm, Australia, single-axis PV, 2013?)
(15)      EUR 350 (Lieberose, Germany, thin-film PV, 2009)
(16)      EUR 300 (Gemasolar, Spain, tower, 2011)
(17)      EUR 228 (Meuro, Germany, crystalline PV, 2012)
(18)      USD 204 (Crescent Dunes, USA, tower, 2013)
(19)      AUD 316 (University of Queensland, fixed PV, 2011)
(20)      EUR 241 (Ait Baha, Morocco, 1-axis solar thermal, 2012)
(21)      EUR 227 (Shivajinagar Sakri, India, PV, 2012)
(22)      JPY 36,076 (Kagoshima, Kyushu, Japan, PV, start July 2012)
(23)      AUD 249 (NEXTDC, Port Melbourne, PV, Q2 2012)

[Note: all estimates made using 2% annual maintenance cost.]

The Capacity Factor for the NEXTDC installation is 550/(0.4×24×365) = 0.157.  That’s quite good, very good even, considering that the weather in Melbourne is regarded scornfully by most Australians (apologies to my Melbourne friends!) and the average daily insolation is only around 15 MJ per m^2.  At the moment, I don’t have information about the type of panels and whether they are fixed; I’ll update this post if I find out.

At AUD 249/MWhr, the LCOE for the NEXTDC system is the best for all installations I have analysed recently except for Crescent Dunes (a utility-scale storage-equipped solar thermal installation in the USA).

I calculate the cost of CO2 abatement as AUD 249×550/670 = AUD 204/t CO2 abated, about 20-25% of the cost of abatement for Kagoshima as I blogged yesterday.  (But note my comments earlier about how Melbourne gets its electricity!)


  1. I truly appreciate you taking the time to share this informative post, I'll definitely be back for more! Thank you!

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  2. I really appreciate the person who has written such a wonderful blog. Your simple use of language and no frills makes the post a great read.

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  4. Thanks for sharing this breakdown of costs. A great read ! How to Edit Videos

  5. It is so crazy that solar power can cost almost double in some countries...